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Voluntary Additional Tax?

Recently I received an email from an alert citizen whose remarks were published in Money magazine in March 2017.  It apparently impressed the editors of the magazine enough to print this comment in extra-large type.  It was in response to an article titled “The 2017 Washington Wish List,” and here it is:

Here’s my wish as an ordinary taxpayer:  Let’s add a line of Form 1040 titled “Voluntary Additional Tax” (VAT), allowing any taxpayer to pay more than the IRS requires.  This will give Warren Buffett et al. a chance to “walk the walk” and pay millions more.  It’ll squelch the tired old “Well, nobody asked me/us” from the mouths of mega-millionaires.  –Alan Matsuda, Honolulu.

There isn’t a specific line on the Form 1040 that asks for voluntary contributions, but there is a paragraph in the Form 1040 instructions that does.  Here is what it says:

How Do You Make a Gift To Reduce Debt Held By the Public?

If you wish to do so, make a check payable to “Bureau of the Fiscal Service.” You can send it to: Bureau of the Fiscal Service, Attn: Dept G, P.O. Box 2188, Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188. Or you can enclose the check with your income tax return when you file. In the memo section of the check, make a note that it is a gift to reduce the debt held by the public. Do not add your gift to any tax you may owe. See the instructions for line 78 for details on how to pay any tax you owe. For information on how to make this type of gift online, go to and click on “How To Make a Contribution to Reduce the Debt.”

TIP:  You may be able to deduct this gift on your 2017 tax return.

Some folks indeed have made contributions to reduce the public debt.  Here is how they have stacked up over the last twenty years:

Source:  U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service

This amount is hardly chump change, but it isn’t enough to make a dent in the public debt we now have, which is more than $20 trillion as of October 31 (even after counting the voluntary contributions in the chart).

Those of us in the nonprofit sector, whose lives as nonprofit organizations rise or fall with gift contributions, know that people open their wallets and give once they feel that the donee, the recipient of their bounty, will deliver value.  The organization won’t be giving a personal benefit to the donors, but it must be able to deliver value in a way that is important to the donors.  Is society better off?  Have lives been enriched?  Have babies been saved?

If we can see clearly how our government is making our society better, or enriching lives, or saving babies, then maybe we wouldn’t mind paying so much in taxes, or might even toss more of our hard-earned cash toward the public debt.  Those of you in government agencies, you might want to think about that.

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About Tom Yamachika

Tom Yamachika
Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a private, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to informing the taxpaying public about the finances of our state and local governments in Hawaii. Tom is also a tax attorney in solo practice and has been since early 2013. Prior to 2013, he was with the accounting firm Accuity LLP, which was formed in 2006 from the Honolulu office of Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PricewaterhouseCoopers). Before that, he served as an Administrative Rules Specialist in the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation from 1994 to 1996, where he drafted rules, interpretive releases, and legislation on several different state taxes. Prior to that, he practiced litigation and tax law with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright in Honolulu.

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